December 31, 2005
The American EPIC
Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect, cites EPIC in a recent column. Too bad he calls the movie's mega-company "Google-zon"... it's like those weird older comics where they'd be like, "Beware the Bat-Man!"
Fresno Famous has been redesigned and Drupalized and is a wonder to behold.
Instant RSS Feeds from E-mail
Best previously-undiscovered Bloglines feature ever: At the bottom of the Bloglines menu, on the 'My Feeds' tab, you'll find a link that reads "Create e-mail subscriptions." Click on that link, and you will be taken to a magical place where Bloglines will generate a random e-mail address for you. Any e-mails sent to that address will show up as an RSS feed in whatever Bloglines folder you specify. Excellent.
December 30, 2005
(P.S. It's no coincidence Powell.com's Review a Day RSS feed is a file called rad.xml.)
December 27, 2005
Speaking of micro/macro... Ben Vershbow at if:book gets dreamy in his description of a Buddhist monastery in Korea that houses "the largest, most complete set of Buddhist scriptures in existence":
The whole monastery a kind of computer, the monks running routines to and from the database. The mountains, Orion, the drum all part of the program. It seemed almost more hi-tech than cutting edge Seoul.
Sometimes we are all just cogs, and that's okay too.
Micro vs. Macro in a Duel to the Death
Get ready: I am about to compare Wikipedia to Wal-Mart.
Chris Anderson says the magic of Wikipedia (and other internet systems, e.g. Google) is that they work on hugely macro "probabilistic" scales. Think of it like this:
To put it another way, the quality range in Britannica goes from, say, 5 to 9, with an average of 7. Wikipedia goes from 0 to 10, with an average of, say, 5. But given that Wikipedia has ten times as many entries as Britannica, your chances of finding a reasonable entry on the topic you're looking for are actually higher on Wikipedia. That doesn't mean that any given entry will be better, only that the overall value of Wikipedia is higher than Britannica when you consider it from this statistical perspective.
OK, but what are the broader consequences? Might not this statistical optimization of "value" at the macroscale be a recipe for mediocrity at the microscale -- the scale, it's worth remembering, that defines our own individual lives and the culture that surrounds us?
So here goes: This seems analogous to the debate over Wal-Mart.... Read more ....
File under: Snarkpolicy, Society/Culture, Technosnark
A post by Douglas Rushkoff about Hanukkah and a Slate article about Kwanzaa each make the same point: call them made-up holidays if you want, mock their dubious origins, but recognize the very valid role each holiday plays for its culture by asserting "distinctiveness in the face of the forces of assimilation." And speaking of holidays of dubious origin, I've taken to answering "Merry Christmas!" with "Io, Saturnalia!" although my family does celebrate a pretty traditional Christmas. So far, I've only gotten smiles in response. Next year I may try "Blessed Solstice!"
December 26, 2005
Ads as Information
Just saw this ad on nytimes.com -- I like it! (Mouse-over the keywords.)
December 23, 2005
Snapshot from the Uncanny City
Pure Play in Adulthood
I started reading this post by Chris Bateman about theories of play and got sucked in despite the jargon, and I'm quite happy about it. It ends up framing a very interesting discussion about games in a light I'd never considered before.
Imagine that "play" is a continuum stretching from freeform, imaginative anarchy ("paidia") at one end to rules-based order ("ludus") at the other. As children, we start out with a natural tendency towards paidia -- we play nonsense games with dolls, we build worlds out of Legos, we bat about aimlessly with sticks, with no rules or direction in mind. (Although one theorist mentioned in the post argues that the unspoken cultural 'rules' underpinning these games are stricter and more elaborate than those you'd find in an instruction manual.) Paidia tends to be short-lived, generally evolving into ludus. As we play with our dolls and our Legos and our sticks, we start developing more and more rules and logical structures for our play. The dolls start acting out a scenario. The sticks find a target and a purpose.
As we age, we tend to skip paidia altogether and head straight for the ludus. Adults play card games and sports and board games with rulesets that are complicated from the outset. And the geeks among us prize those games with incredibly Byzantine engineering -- turn-based role-playing games, for example. These are games that have been carefully designed to incorporate many different patterns of play -- strategy, chance, competition, mimicry -- into a seamless whole.... Read more ....
December 22, 2005
Revolution or Evolution?
Grant McCracken riffs on three models for how the Net is changing the world: 1) It's cutting out the middlemen. 2) It's allowing microcultures to flourish. 3) It's reforming the idea of the idea. The post isn't really dense or light, but slightly abstract and pretty interesting. McCracken doesn't necessarily contend that all or any of these models is actually true.
This post is putatively to mention that NYU journalism professor Mitchell Stephens, author of the rise of the image the fall of the word, has begun a new blog tracking the history of atheism. (He's writing a book on the topic.)
December 21, 2005
Time for Salsa Lessons
This is it.
The finding I've always feared.
Far from Narnia
New Yorker profile of Philip Pullman? YES PLEASE.
(Related: There's a TNR piece on C.S. Lewis that's quite good, if you happen to subscribe or have a copy of the mag.)
December 19, 2005
Virtual Apocalyptic Tourism
Clive Thompson takes a spin around Asheron's Call 2 -- an online game scheduled to power down forever in just a couple of weeks -- to find out: What's it like in a place where the world is literally about to end?
More Snapshots from the Uncanny Valley
What do you think? Knowing that none of these faces belongs to a human, do you find them freaky, or actually kinda hot? Do any of them work for you? How about when you compare them to this set of faces? Does it help if they're not looking at the camera? Are you wigged out yet? (Ferreterrific.)
December 18, 2005
Thunder, Lightning, Strike
This tiptoes on the very edge of the bloggable (cat photos not far beyond) but MAN the weather here in San Francisco is nuts. It's been raining for like two days straight and now I'm finally seeing some Bay Area thunderstorm action for the first time. (Contrast to St. Petersburg, where lightning would, like, just randomly strike in the middle of a sunny afternoon.)
Why'd They Put Bono in the Middle?
Ah, TIME's Person(s) of the Year. This cover just makes me laugh.
(Does this feature seem totally tired and irrelevant these days to anybody else?)
December 17, 2005
That's, Er, Quite a Payroll
Okay, quiz time: What's the country's top private employer (in terms of number of employees)?
Answer after the break.
December 16, 2005
But How Will They Film the Marbled Page?
In 2005, Tim Berners-Lee ...
Think back a little more than a year ago, to the political campaigns of 2004. One of the hottest issues in presidential debates and congressional campaigns was the threat to traditional marriage posed by gay people seeking the right to wed. ...
But a year later, it seems pertinent to ask: Have you heard or read a single word about a federal gay-marriage amendment since the election?
A Google of One
But beyond that, the RAD Lab's vision itself is amazingly radical. They want to do for internet apps what the web did for information publishing. That is: lower the barrier of entry to zero. They write:
If we succeed, the next killer Internet app will be written, deployed, operated, at Google-like scales, by a single programmer.
That is so audacious! I love it!
December 15, 2005
Notes on some quality time with the Nintendo Revolution. I was just talking with some friends yesterday about modern (traditional) video game controllers, and how impenetrable they are if you haven't been slowly training your hands over the years to manipulate seventeen buttons simultaneously. The Revolution looks to be a lot more accessible.
Global Stories You Missed
Foreign Policy rounds up ten big stories that fell through the cracks in 2005. Take a spin and get re-acquainted with what's actually happening in the world.
December 14, 2005
'Pedia Still Astonishingly Awesome
Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopaedia. But reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica, respectively.
I'm pretty darn awed by that.
If you've been watching Romenesko's letters this week, you might have caught Karen Heyman's letter about Wikipedia's problems. A snippet:
Unless you already know a field, you can have no idea that an apparently definitive entry presents only one side of an ongoing fight between specialists. That it may be changed, and changed back again, hardly helps matters. This, btw, is the best explanation as to why simply sitting back and saying, "It's okay now, it's changed," ultimately would not have worked for Seigenthaler. Chances are high that later somebody would have come along to "fix" the correction.
Wikipedia is a fantastic idea, a wonderful service, with entries that often reflect great effort and care. Unfortunately, inevitably, as it's grown, the flaws built into its original design have become more obvious. Egalitarian editing may be a noble goal, but the reality is that if Wikipedia is to truly fulfill its promise, it needs a way to vet contributors, to let users know whether an entry on neuroscience was written and edited by a senior professor, a student who just took Psych 101, or a layperson who's paraphrasing an old issue of Scientific American. Certainly prankster Brian Chase's initial belief that Wikipedia was a joke site says a great deal about how some of its entries appear to the general public. If Seigenthaler's complaint actually leads to more accountability, far from hurting Wikipedia, he may ultimately have saved it.
I'll cross-post my reply to Ms. Heyman below:... Read more ....
Great Philip Roth Interview
Miyazaki Does Earthsea
Oh wow. Two favorites collide: Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli will do an adaptation of the Earthsea books by Ursula K. LeGuin.
(The Sci-Fi Channel did one, too, but it was bad.)
December 13, 2005
Little Wheels Turning
The first round of lendees just paid off their loans, co-founder Matthew Flannery reports. A little while ago I threw a few bucks into a loan for a store in Tanzania... I'll keep you posted as it kicks into gear.
Flannery's blog has been really good so far; I recommend it if you're at all interested in this kind of stuff. He is a former TiVo engineer turned microfinance portal developer! Nice.
The Monster at Our Door?
Interesting and panoramic Salon interview with Mike Davis about bird flu.
A Yahoo Company
I'm keeping this Greasemonkey script installed for at least a day. I don't know why I get such a kick out of seeing every site I go to labelled "A Yahoo! company!" but I'm milking it while the humor lasts.
December 12, 2005
Walled Gardens Begone
Strange days. And by strange I mean awesome.
More on Chinese Unrest
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has watched the "color revolutions" in Georgia (rose), the Ukraine (orange), Azerbaijan (rose/orange), and elsewhere with great trepidation. But if such an event were to happen here it is unlikely to come in the warm hues favored in the former Soviet bloc, and it would certainly not be red like the revolution of 50 years ago. No, the revolution the CCP is increasingly worried about is green.
More on China and the environment follows. It's interesting stuff.
P.S. In good ol' Civilization IV the ultimate economic system is... environmentalism. At first I thought that was odd, but upon reflection it might just be prescient.
Comics Are So Weird
Now this is some serious cultural cutting-and-pasting:
Set in what appears to be the entirely Anglo-Pakistani city of Bradford, England, the unlikely hero of [the comic] ''Vimanarama" is Ali, an angsty Shiite 19-year-old who gets caught up in an ancient war between pollution-loving demons and the Ultrahadeen, giant beings apparently inspired by two enduring myths: stories of angels in the Koran and elsewhere, and Jack Kirby's ''The Eternals," a mid-1970s comic about a race of superheroic immortals whom humans worship as gods.
The "Web 2.0" Design Aesthetic
Browse through a gallery of the ever-more-crowded world of Web applications released in beta. Good Lord, our Web design is becoming homogenized. Almost everything looks like the love child of a Google application and OS X. Predominant color scheme: secondary colors on a white background. Font of choice: almost invariably a rounded sans serif, usually in lowercase. Rounded edges and gradients are the new black. Talk balloons are everywhere (exhibits a, b, c, d, e, etc.).
Much of this stuff is Good Design, but it's so ubiquitous that it's become visual static. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a good gradient or a rounded sans serif font. But if those are the only hallmarks of the design, please try again. I say this not as any sort of a self-styled designer (I'm totally not a designer), but just as someone who sees a lot of websites. I'd guess that much of the Web 2.0 backlash is a reaction to the pre-fab*, lifeless aesthetic it's spawned.
* Not that prefab is always bad. I'm definitely going to this exhibit this week.
Beautiful Barf Bags
A few years ago, Virgin Airlines held annual barf bag design contests, and posted the best entries on DesignForChunks.com. Some of them are pure genius. How much prettier a place would our world be if companies routinely held design contests for mundane things?
'Ghetto' as Design Choice
I know at least one designer for whom the insane popularity of MySpace is like an icy dagger forever twisting in his heart: How can they use it? How can they like it? IT'S SO UGLY.
So I was interested to see this (light) analysis of why MySpace works. Even better, it turns out, are the comments on the post (blogs are cool like that) -- they really dig into the ins and outs of MySpace's design, or lack thereof, and its success.
December 11, 2005
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe... But Especially the Witch
I saw the new Narnia movie this weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Of course this is no "Lord of the Rings." But big deal. The Chronicles of Narnia have always been a different sort of thing entirely. Tolkien is high fantasy; Lewis is fairy tale. Tolkien weaves a mock history; Lewis tells a bedtime story.
And there's something appealing about that. In contrast to Tolkien's fastidiously-kept Middle Earth, there is a large-hearted looseness to Narnia. It's got centaurs, phoenixes, wolves, talking beavers, knights, witch-queens... you know, whatever. And the entire place seems to be about the size of San Francisco -- a perfectly fine size for an adventure.
The best part of the movie is Tilda Swinton, who plays the White Witch. Her performance in the big battle scene -- from her fell arrival in a war-chariot drawn by polar bears (!) to her icy duel with young Peter -- is raw martial cool. Also, toned arms are the new hotness.
Anthony Lane actually gets it right (but wrong) in his dismissive New Yorker review:
If the movie has to forgo Lewis's narrative tone, with its grimly Oxonian blend of the bluff and the twee ("And now we come to one of the nastiest things in this story"), that is fine by me.
I don't know that the movie does forgo it. Overall, it is a weird -- enjoyably weird -- mix of the big and the small, the high prophecy and the comic aside. The battle scene is thrilling, and the White Witch truly threatening -- but at the same time it does look a lot like a bunch of creatures playing war in the park. I didn't mind.
(Oh yes, and sorry, but the magical Turkish delight in this movie still manages to look gross.)
December 9, 2005
I may never have empathized with an article more than this one. I had the exact same motivation for trying Turkish Delight, and the exact same reaction. How many of us poor youths did C.S. Lewis scar with that "candy"?
Dudes. Our Googling monkeys tell us that more than half of Snarkmarket's cosmopolitan, discerning, tastemaking audience still uses frickin' IE. I don't know if IE is still the hellish experience it was before I switched over, leaving you in constant peril of attack by nasty viruses and annoying popups. But I do know from the occasional moments when I'm forced to use it that it remains a far inferior browsing experience than Firefox for several reasons. Chief among those: 1) tabs, 2) extensions, 3) configurability, 4) display.
Watch the Rocketboom entry of Dec. 2nd, note the responses of the IE users surveyed, decide you don't want to be in such company, and sacrifice the one minute and thirteen seconds it takes to install Firefox.
Whoah: 20 Reported Killed as Chinese Unrest Escalates, the NYT reports.
Yahoo Buys Del.icio.us
This whole year at Yahoo feels like a Harvard Business School case study in the making, doesn't it? Whether for good or ill, time will tell...
December 8, 2005
3 > 2 > 1?
Re: the X-Men movies, Clive Thompson nails it:
And sure enough, it looks like a mutantastic film; in a violation of all known laws of sequel physics, the second X-Men movie actually demonstrated less creative entropy than the first, so I have high hopes for the third.
Agreed, it looks good.
Spymaster in Three Easy Steps
Step 1. Go to Microsoft's new Windows Live Local maps.
Step 2. Click "Locate Me." Just have it use your IP address.
Step 3. Switch to Bird's Eye mode, if available.
Your mileage may vary... but it knew exactly where I was. And I could see myself in the window. No, just kidding. But not by much.
I really love living in the 21st century.
India is digitizing its ancient medical texts in order to stave off biopiracy.
(Via the Mutiny. No mere link; there is some elegant commentary there.)
Non-profit-ness often gets a bad rap for being wishy-washy and, like, not as serious and dynamic as for-profit-ness -- so I'm glad to see a former business reporter, banker, and lawyer talking it up.
Games to Buy Me for Christmas
What Do You Call a Star Wars Database That Anyone Can Edit?
December 7, 2005
Whoah! Snarkmarket speaks not a peep! I've got lots to blog but haven't... because I've been in Sweden!
My co-blogger continues to reside in Minnesota which, as I understand it, is essentially the same thing.
To fend you off: Here's what a law conference looks like!
December 3, 2005
Okay, I am at the Regulating Search conference at Yale, and will post notes in this entry as the day progresses.
Just got done with the first panel, which I was on.
Andrei Broder from Yahoo has a neat high-level outline: Search is transforming from syntactic (e.g. matching keywords to text on a page) to semantic (e.g. understanding what it is you're actually talking about), and will continue on to "information supply" (e.g. no explicit searching -- information just appears as you need it).
Now, the panel on regulation.
Barbara van Schewick drops an interesting factoid: In terms of eventual transactions, there's a drop-off of more than fifty percent from the first search result to the second! Wow.
Renata Hesse, from the antitrust section of the Department of Justice, responds briefly to the idea of Google FOIA... with horror. Just because it has the potential to create so much work! (Conference attendee Michael Zimmer thinks it's interesting, though.)
In response to a question, Yahoo's Andrei Broder distinguishes between "navigational searching" (e.g. I am looking for the University of Chicago law faculty blog, but don't know the URL) ) and "informational searching" (e.g. I am looking for a good constitutional lawyer). Apparently about 25% of all searches are the former.
Lunch break! And the entry break as well. Read on.... Read more ....
December 2, 2005
The End of the Internet
Here's a scary, thought-provoking essay by Doc Searls, spinning out the implications of this exchange between a BusinessWeek reporter and the CEO of SBC:
How concerned are you about Internet upstarts like Google (GOOG), MSN, Vonage, and others?
How do you think they're going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain't going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there's going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they're using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?
The Internet can't be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! (YHOO) or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!
It's on the backs of these "pipes" that all the content on the Internet is delivered to us, Searls points out. And the companies that laid these pipes did so at considerable expense. And Searls draws together comments from industry execs and drafts of legislation to show these companies gearing up to collect on that investment:
The carriers have been lobbying Congress for control of the Net since Bush the Elder was in office. Once they get what they want, they'll put up the toll booths, the truck scales, the customs checkpoints--all in a fresh new regulatory environment that formalizes the container cargo business we call packet transport. This new environment will be built to benefit the carriers and nobody else. The "consumers"? Oh ya, sure: they'll benefit too, by having "access" to all the good things that carriers ship them from content providers. Is there anything else? No.
Searls imagines three scenarios: 1) The one where the telcos get their way. 2) The one where municipal WiFi and private investment (like GoogleNet) carries the day. 3) The one where we users of the Internet reframe the debate from being about "pipes" and "packets" and "carriers" to being about "markets" and "worlds" and "places." In other words, the Internet isn't just a lot of bits of content ("property") going from one end to another. It's a place where people go to create and connect. "We go on the Net, not through it," Searls says.
This is a vast simplification of Searls' argument. Much good stuff is in there, including his pointers to worldofends.com, where he and David Weinberger have written up some fascinating thoughts on things like why the Internet is stupid.
Go read it, and also read the if:book entry that pointed me to it. Since running across these, I've started to pay a lot more attention to what the telcos seem to be fighting for, and Searls' guess doesn't seem very outlandish at all.
PS: I can't imagine any developments, no matter how fiendish, would actually herald the End of the Internet, but it makes a nice attention-grabber. Sorry. :)